Capitalism and the Climate Crisis

We live in a social system driven by the profit motive and capital accumulation. Economic growth under capitalism is everything even though it has an adverse effect on the environment. Rain forests are destroyed, rivers and seas polluted, areas of the planet made uninhabitable and human and animal life destroyed. This is the destructive nature of capitalism in the 21st century.

Capitalism is an exploitive social system. The profit system not only exploits the environment but exploits the working class majority. The environment is constantly dispoilt and workers, who do not own the means of production and distribution, receive less in the value of wages and salaries than they produce for the capitalist class.

We have been told by environmental scientists that if action is not taken to prevent temperatures exceeding 1.5 degrees the consequences for the planet and those living on it are dire in the extreme. Melting ice will lead to flooded cities and destruction of agriculture. Storms, heat waves and droughts will become more extreme. There will be water scarcity, and many species will die. There will be more migration of desperate human beings as parts of the world become increasingly uninhabitable.

System change

It is not as though the environmental consequences of the climate crisis are unknown. For several decades the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published reports setting out the need to keep temperatures within a rise of 1.5 degrees. The science on climate warming is quite clear and is impossible to deny by climate sceptics in the pay of the fossil fuel industry. One report after another is published by the IPCC demonstrating the problem of global warming and the likely consequences if nothing is done. Time is now running out. In yet another report this year the IPCC states:

"The window of time we have to act is closing fast [and] we must urgently adapt and reduce emissions, because current targets are not enough"
(GUARDIAN 16 May 2022).

There is nothing in the report about the real barriers stopping targets being met: capitalism, the profit motive, competing nation states, the interests of one country as opposed to another, and the fact that a small majority - the capitalist class - actually own the means to life; the land, the resources, factories, transport and communication and distribution points to the exclusion of the majority. The IPCC conveniently ignores the capitalist cause of the climate crisis.

The GUARDIAN has also uncovered evidence of nearly 200 "carbon bombs" - oil, gas and coal mega-projects, proposed or under way - that would destroy any chance of limiting temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. With direct access to government ministers, politicians, the media and tame "think tanks", the capitalist class has little to worry about. Gas and oil executives and the PR representatives are even welcomed at the UN conferences on the climate crisis as though they were innocent participants.

Governments who pledged to do "something now" cannot upset the profit motive and the interests of the oil and coal companies they serve. Deforestation has continued apace and the world loses almost six million hectares of forest each year. Loggers, cattle farmers, palm olive oil producers come first. The needs of the capitalists have to come first. That is capitalism.

Attention is often drawn towards the deforestation of the Amazon forest. However the deforestation also takes place in the continent of Africa. In an article "Massive Deforestation in the Congo Basin Will Lead to Poverty", the journalist Sylvie Djacbopu Deugoue recently wrote:

"The current economic development model in Congo Basin is rooted in massive deforestation: more and more concessions are being granted with large scale land set aside for industrial agriculture such as palm oil and rubber.

The loss of the forest ecosystem - and therefore the spiritual and cultural heritage of the community - is irreversible. The tropical rainforests of the Congo Basin are being eliminated.

The impact is not just economic: When forests are cleared, the carbon they store is released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. According to the recent Global Forest Watch data, in 2021, 3.75 million hectares of pristine rainforest (an area critical to carbon storage and biodiversity) was lost at a rate of 10 football fields per minute
(IPS May 2022)

The climate crisis has seen the formation of movements like Extinction Rebellion and the school climate strikers led by Greta Thunberg. They may have made the climate crisis a major topic of concern through their publicity but they cannot undermine the interests located around the private ownership of the means of production and distribution. They cannot abolish the capitalist cause of the climate crisis. They are powerless in the face of the profit motive and the needs of capitalists to make a profit even though it creates environmental squalor and devastation.

The often counter-productive pantomime actions of Extinction Rebellion have only led to a repressive response from the state and Greta Thunberg will not admit that the problem that generated the climate crisis is capitalism. Direct Action has just resulted in empty gestures, court fines and imprisonment. Greta Thunberg can offer no political solution. She only hears "Blah Blah Blah" from the politicians but socialists see no decisive political analysis of capitalism in her writings and speeches. Until these environmental groups understand and accept the urgent need for system change, the environmental problems that they want to be addressed will persist.

Can Capitalism's environmental problems be reformed?

What of the professional reformers? A group within the Labour party, The Labour for a Green New Deal (LGND) produced a motion for the 2019 Labour Party conference. The motion called for:

"A state-led programme of investment and regulation for the decarbonisation and transformation of our economy that reduces inequality and pursues efforts to keep global average temperature rises below 1.5°C."
('Change is a fight against capitalism', Simon Hannah, Open Democracy 13 August 2019)

The authors of the Labour Party motion held the misguided belief that there existed international co-operation between the capitalist countries of the world to solve common problems. For decades there has been disputes about how and when to make the necessary changes from fossil fuel to non fossil fuel to prevent global average temperatures below 1.5 degree C. There is a huge unbridgeable gap between the scientific reality of the climate crisis and the political squabbling that takes place when political leaders meet at United Nation forums. And, as COP26 showed, there is a huge difference between what governments say and what they carry out in practice. Political promises and pledges do not amount to much. Governments and politicians do not have the power to effect the necessary environmental changes the LGND motion misleadingly claims it has.

The motion also assumed that a future Labour Government will restrain or tame the profit motive. It does not have that power nor does it exist for that purpose. Governments exist to enable capitalists to pursue the profit motive not hinder it. The problem is not politicians and their powerlessness but the fact that the means of production and distribution are privately owned. Nationalising theses industries makes no difference. Look at the environmental pollution and squalor that took place under previous Labour governments and in the former Soviet Union where there was large-scale state capitalism and environmental degradation. The profit motive overrides all other considerations.

At the time of Cop 26, the then shadow Secretary for Business, Ed Miliband (now Shadow Secretary of State of Climate Change) called on the Tory government to address the lack of international co-operation by:

"Pressurising the big emitting nations, phasing out fossil fuels, and ensuring a just transition for workers"
(Labour Party Press Release October 21 2021)

However, capitalists find novel ways to bypass legislation and reforms. And how could a future Labour government "pressurise" Brazil from cutting down the Amazonian rain forests or China from mining for coal? And a future Republican President, like Donald Trump, could pull out of United Nation's Climate Change conferences altogether. Capitalist countries also renege what they will say they will do. Political resolve is brittle in the face of the profit motive. And what is a "just transition for workers". Whether workers are employed in the fossil fuel economy or the renewable economy they are still exploited wage slaves.

The Labour government does not exist to challenge capitalism. Change - revolutionary change - is a fight against capitalism. It is a political struggle of the working class against the capitalist class. However the Labour Party will be supporting the capitalist class and its interests in this struggle. Instead of workers giving their support to the Labour Party and Labour governments, what is urgently needed is global common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. What is needed is socialism.

In order to make the necessary environmental changes there has to be the establishment of world socialism. And this requires socialists - a socialist majority - taking democratic political action within a principled socialist party with only socialism as its objective. Capitalism is simply incompatible with directly meeting social needs and a creating a balanced natural environment in which "from each according to their ability to each according to their needs" takes place.

Private property and climate crisis

To fundamentally tackle the issue of fossil fuels and deforestation requires land, factories, resources and transport to be taken under common ownership and democratic control. There will be no compensation in a world without buying and selling, money, wages and capital. Once a majority of socialists have voted for socialism and taken control of the machinery of government, including the armed forces, measures then can be introduced to balance human production with the environment.

The political issue is the private ownership of the means of production and distribution by a small minority who pursue the anti-social aim of profit making. Only socialists, a socialist majority and a socialist movement have the necessary political power to replace capitalism with socialism. Only socialism can resolve the climate crisis.

The Labour Party has always dismissed the Socialist Party of Great Britain's insistence on first convincing the workers of the need for socialism. Instead, the Labour Party puts forward environmental and social reforms in its Manifesto in order to attract non socialist working class support and thereby gaining political power. It is a futile attempt to garner support for the problems capitalism causes. A Labour Party backed-up with a non-socialist working class can only administer capitalism in the interest of the capitalist class. The social and environmental problems remain from one generation to the next.

There is the cry of the environmentalists that we need to address the climate crisis now. However, to address the climate crisis now cannot be through social reforms but social revolution. The failure of previous Labour governments throughout the world should be evidence enough. So long as capitalism is accepted by workers and the urgent need for the establishment of socialism rejected, the profit system will be run in the interest of the capitalist class. And that includes the climate crisis and the environmental and social problems the profit system causes

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.